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Chico State

Biology Major’s Grit Strengthened by Faculty and Staff Support

Donning her pink lab coat, microbiology major Nayellie Barragan-Mejia smiles for the camera while conducting research at a lab at Chico State.
(Photos by Jason Halley / University Photographer)

Many attributes can apply to Chico State senior Nayellie Barragan-Mejia: Affable, conscientious, and polite. But it is her gritty determination that defines her life. 

“I’m so proud of just being here today,” said the microbiology major. 

From childhood, Barragan-Mejia, a Van Nuys native, has loved to learn and wanted to excel. It is why she would wake up before dawn to take a 1.5-hour bus ride to her high school of choice, Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School. Barragan-Mejia was also always academically competitive, taking part in science fairs, math competitions and student clubs. Despite these early signs of tenacity, her parents weren’t initially supportive of her college aspirations.  

“I grew up in a very strict Catholic, Mexican household,” she said, wearing her trademark pink lab coat and pink Vans. “In a way, they were writing my life for me. They wanted me to go to a community college and then hopefully just get married and get a good job. I knew I didn’t want that. I always had a passion for school.” 

Without her parents’ knowledge and with the help of a family friend, the then-17-year-old applied to college and drove nearly eight hours north to visit the campus for Choose Chico. 

As an incoming freshman, Nayellie Barragan-Mejia participated in the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) summer calculus boot camp and said it was a great experience that allowed her to meet her peers.
As an incoming freshman, Nayellie Barragan-Mejia participated in the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) summer calculus boot camp and said it was a great experience that allowed her to meet her peers.

The mix of faculty, students, and staff from various backgrounds at Choose Chico made a huge impact on her. She said everyone was immediately supportive and welcoming, eclipsing experiences she’d had on other campuses.  

Chico State also offered the major Barragan-Mejia was interested in, and she was impressed with the research students and professors were doing. Research she now gets to conduct herself alongside her biology professors and classmates.  

From day one, Barragan-Mejia said the college and the department have shown her support, but it was never more important than when she began to feel ill her freshman year.  

Barragan-Mejia was diagnosed with a rare hormonal disorder that causes her body to produce an excessive amount of prolactin, mimicking pregnancy.  

“I have all the pregnancy symptoms you can think of—I have morning sickness, back pain, nausea,” she said. “I get severe depression, anxiety attacks, and sometimes I couldn’t sleep at night, or I couldn’t get up in the morning. There were days when I didn’t want to eat. 

“It was mental, physical, and emotional trauma.” 

Alone at Chico State and without the support of her family, Barragan-Mejia leaned on Chico State faculty and staff for support. Professors encouraged her to retake classes instead of dropping out, advisors with programs like the Chico STEM Connections Collaborative (CSC2) and Adelante sat with her at medical appointments and became her chosen family, and counselors from the WellCat Counseling Center have helped her work through the emotional and mental toll. 

“It was nice to have them all because this is going on for my fourth year,” she said. “The support kept me going. When I think about it, it’s like, I’m in this little dark hole and I see a string of advisors pulling me up. 

“With everything I’ve been through, if it wasn’t for my advisors, if it wasn’t for my teachers, if it wasn’t for Chico State, I wouldn’t be sitting here today.” 

Donning her pink lab coat and pink shoes, Nayellie Barragan-Mejia sits back on a chair with her feet up on a desk as she laughs.

Barragan-Mejia, who will graduate in May, is still learning to navigate the obstacles she faces, including medical appointments multiple times a week, but has learned to be proud of her accomplishments and how far she’s come. Her parents have also come around. Not only have they become supportive of their daughter, but she has inspired them. Her mother recently earned a nursing certificate and her father, an electrician, has started his own business.  

“I’m proud of starting to take my life back and deciding to accomplish my goals because I have so many goals,” she said. “I’m slowly working to get there.” 

Barragan-Mejia plans to pursue her master’s and doctorate degrees and become an entrepreneur.